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Heavenly Harmonies

The Sunday Times names Heavenly Harmonies Disc of the Week

Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times (10 February, 2008)

The idea of interleaving William Byrd’s elaborate polyphonic motets for undercover Roman Catholic consumption during the last two decades of Elizabeth I’s reign with his mentor Thomas Tallis’s “official” Protestant Psalm Tunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter might seem perverse on paper, but it works brilliantly. The austerity of Tallis’s settings of Parker’s English versifications of the Psalm contrasts starkly with the intricate textures and deeply expressed torment of such Byrd masterpieces as Ne Irascaris Domine (in which desolate Jerusalem and Sion reduced to a wilderness symbolise the fate of Catholics during the intensification of Elizabethan persecution after the Babington plot and the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots) and Infelix ego (Savonarola’s plea for divine guidance and succour as he awaited his execution as a heretic in 1498). The young singers of Stile Antico, in their second disc of Tudor music, are magnificent; my only quibble is that vocal music “designed not to afford empty delight for the ear, but in such a way that the words may be understood by all” should be performed without distinct consonants. The jubilant strain of Laudibus in sanctis (the only joyful music on the disc) disarms criticism: glorious music, gloriously sung.